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OPINION

Media Claims that ‘Fossil Fuel Addiction Kills’ Are Patently Absurd

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Czarek Sokolowski

Media outlets have been abuzz this week over a new report that blames fossil fuel use for a wide variety of ills, even going so far as to say it is killing people. ABC News recently ran a story by Associated Press (AP) climate reporter Seth Borenstein, which could be the most dishonest piece of climate related journalism ever.

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The article, titled “Doctors say 'fossil fuel addiction' kills, starves millions is based on a new report published in The Lancet Countdown.

Citing the report, AP’s Seth Borenstein makes some very broad claims, including, “Our health is at the mercy of fossil fuels.” He added, “We’re seeing a persistent addiction to fossil fuels that is not only amplifying the health impacts of climate change, but which is also now at this point compounding with other concurrent crises that we’re globally facing.”

The claim of “our health is at the mercy of fossil fuels” isn’t just wrong, it is patently absurd, and real-world data proves this.

For instance, below is a quote from a 2020 peer-reviewed article by Bjørn Lomborg: Welfare in the 21st century: Increasing development, reducing inequality, the impact of climate change, and the cost of climate policies.

Summarizing the data, Lomborg writes, “Back in the 1920s, the death count from climate-related disasters was 485,000 on average every year. In the last full decade, 2010-2019, the average was 18,357 dead per year or 96% lower. In the first year of the new decade, 2020, the preliminary number of dead was even lower at 8,086 — 98% lower than the 1920s average.”

As anyone knows, from 1920 to 2020, fossil fuel use increased dramatically. If it were in fact causing more deaths, we’d see it in the mortality data. We’d also see it in the graphs of human population growth. In fact, since the beginning of the industrial revolution, both global population and global fossil fuel use parallel each other closely.

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Clearly, humans have thrived in conjunction with fossil fuel use since 1850, not the opposite, as the AP article claims. The proof is in the Human Development Index (HDI), which is a summary measure of average achievement in three key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable, and having a decent standard of living. The global HDI shows a constant positive improvement since the mid-19th century following the same growth path as global fossil fuel use.

Another claim in the AP article is easily shot down by real-world data. Borenstein writes, “Extreme weather from climate change triggered hunger in nearly 100 million people and increased heat deaths by 68% in vulnerable populations worldwide as the world’s ‘fossil fuel addiction’ degrades public health each year, doctors reported in a new study.”

Climate driven epidemiology model output is not the same as actual measured data, such as mortality – it is merely a guess.

When you look at real-world data, such as what was published in 2021 in The Lancet, and highlighted by Climate at a Glance: Temperature Related Deaths, actualtemperature related deaths (using real data, not model output) are not dramatically increasing. Peer-reviewed research, informed by real-world data, clearly shows deaths associated with cold temperatures significantly outnumber heat related deaths by almost 10 to one. The same research shows that deaths associated with extreme temperatures have declined significantly during the recent period of modest warming.

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The study reports that the number of deaths associated with cold temperatures decreased by more than double the amount that deaths tied to hotter temperatures increased over the 20-year period of the study. 

The study also reports that, overall, temperature-related mortality (from extreme hot or cold) has declined significantly, with a total of 166,000 fewer deaths tied to non-optimal temperatures. 

Yet, somehow, despite this clear and compelling evidence, the AP’s Seth Borenstein would rather trust model projections from the study than real-world data. Neither disasters nor deaths supposedly related to climate change are increasing. Shame on The AP and ABC News and the rest of the mainstream media for refusing to tell the whole story, while simply regurgitating falsehoods.

Anthony Watts (awatts@heartland.org) is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute.

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